Former editor of Men’s Health Magazine Luke Benedictus has teamed up with two more hands-on dads to create a new guide for thriving and surviving in the only job that really counts… fatherhood. With nine kids between them, they live by the mantra that happier dads mean happier children and, ultimately, happier families...
Q) I believe this all started on a boat with Thor and Jason Bourne… please explain?
Through a bizarre series of events, Andrew McUtchen, one of the co-authors of the book, somehow found himself on a boat in Monaco with Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon for three days at a Tag Heuer event. The subject that dominated their conversation was their kids and, in particular, how to reconcile their work and family commitments. This experience triggered something of an epiphany for Andrew. The problems of fatherhood, he realised, are universal. Sure, these movie stars have more money than we can ever dream of. But even Thor with all his thunderbolts and lightning still lies awake at night worrying about his kids’ screen-time and how much he’s away from home for work. We started to recognise that a lot of dads are wrestling with the exact same problems. But we invariably navigate them alone, because men don’t tend to share these experiences or identify with each other as dads in the same way that women do. In an effort to remedy that situation, we launched our website, the-father-hood.com, and wrote this book to try and create a forum for those discussions. Our ultimate aim is to help dads survive and thrive in the biggest game in town.
“Even Thor with all his thunderbolts and lightning still lies awake at night worrying about his kids’ screen-time and how much he’s away from home for work.”
Q) On the first page you have included a quote from Professor Richard Fletcher which says, “It’s the most exciting time in history to be a dad.” Why?
Back in the day, a father’s role was largely confined to being the breadwinner and disciplinarian. Thankfully, that’s now changed. Dads today have the opportunity to be more actively involved in their kids’ lives than ever before. That’s a huge positive for men because we no longer have to define ourselves solely by our jobs and can build deeper relationships with our kids. It’s good for our partners, too, because they don’t have to be chained to the role of primary caregiver. And it’s good for the kids because they get more time with their dads. But at the same time it also presents a challenge. Men now face the same struggle that women have wrestled with for years, namely how do you balance your parental and work responsibilities? It’s up to our generation to find a way to make it work.
Q) In the book you highlight instances where society lets dads down and stops them being more hands on – such as not having baby changing stations in men’s toilets. What common frustrations do daddies have to deal with on a daily basis?
I interviewed a guy called Donte Palmer in the US who started a movement called Squat for Change over his frustrations with the lack of baby changing facilities in men’s toilets. It’s symptomatic of the way in which men who want to step up to be hands-on dads sometimes find their efforts subtly undermined. It’s generally not deliberate, but can manifest itself in things like being excluded from parental get-togethers after school, or just being left out of the general chit-chat among the mums in the playground. But we’ve come a long way – things are definitely starting to change for the better.
Q) What is the biggest misconception / stereotype about men becoming fathers that annoys you the most?
Ever seen that T-shirt of a stick-man standing with a pregnant woman under a slogan that reads: “Game Over”? I hate that idea, that having a child is the end of your life. Obviously, becoming a dad will shake things up in multiple areas of your life. But it also opens you up to fresh possibilities too. We want to celebrate fatherhood and try to make it a bit more aspirational. We believe that becoming a dad thrusts you into the Champions League of manhood where you’ve got to find new levels of patience, selflessness and energy. That’s not always easy. But it can also be the making of you as a man.
“Ever seen that T-shirt of a stick-man standing with a pregnant woman under a slogan that reads: ‘Game Over’? I hate that idea, that having a child is the end of your life.”
Q) Along with “words from the wise” passed from fathers to fathers, the book contains a fantastic mix of celebrity interviews. Who was the most surprising and why?
David Beckham was interesting. His whole career as a footballer was built on his relentless work ethic and drive. Due to his success, his kids enjoy a far more privileged upbringing than he experienced. But that also creates problems. Beckham spoke of his dilemma about how to instil that same hunger in his children when they’ve had so many opportunities handed to them on a gilt-edged plate. His solution is to lead by example. That’s why he’s still working incredibly hard on multiple projects. Beckham is determined to show his kids that hard work is the key to success.
Q) And your top piece of advice for new dads?
Always carry tissues and maintain your sense of humour. But the ultimate advice really is just to keep turning up. To be in your kids’ memories tomorrow, you have to be in their lives today.
The Father Hood by Luke Benedictus, Andrew McUtchen and Jeremy Macvean (Murdoch Books, PB £14.99) is available to buy now.